Autumn is an awesome time to visit Amsterdam. The tourist onslaught has thinned, airfares have dropped since summer, and lines at landmark attractions are shorter than in spring, summer or the year-end holidays. The cultural season is well underway and locals are starting to reclaim the town before winter’s chill descends.
By November, the leaves on Amsterdam’s tree-lined canals have turned from green to shades of rust and gold. Seasonal decorations light the darkness that falls by 5pm, cinnamon aromas waft from pop-up stands selling ollieballen (reminiscent of fried donuts, without the hole), and all of Amsterdam town brightens up for Sinterklaas’ (the Dutch Saint Nicholas) arrival via steamship from Spain. As temperatures drop, Dutchies compensate by ramping up the gezelligheid in bars and cafés.
Make the most of fewer crowds, lower airfares and shorter lines at major attractions in the months when the weather is still pleasant with these autumn activities planned for September–November, 2015:
1. Live Life on The Fringe. Some 80 Dutch and international alternative theater groups will perform at Fringe, an 11-day festival showcasing avant-garde drama, dance, musical theater and art. The wild child of the (more serious) Dutch Theatre Festival plays at 40 venues throughout Amsterdam, from September 3–13. Roughly half of the experimental, unorthodox productions present no problem for non-Dutch speakers.
2. Get Sentimental. The newly refurbished Appeltsmarkt near the corner of Elandsgracht and Marnixstraat, named for the fruit market that was held there from 1895–1934, will be the stage for the annual Jordaan Festival, set for September 4–6. The annual songfest celebrates the neighborhood’s colorful history with open-air performances by Dutch artists.
3. Celebrate A Favorite Son. Against a backdrop of 125,000 sunflowers, mark the opening of the new entrance to Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum on September 5–6. Wander through a dazzling sunflower labyrinth on Museumplein encompassing three Van Gogh-inspired rooms: one with a collage of Van Gogh fan art, another with photos of the construction process, and a third featuring singer-songwriters who will perform numbers written especially for this event. From 4–6pm on Sunday, September 6, museum staff will hand out free sunflowers before the labyrinth is dismantled when the event ends.
4. Visit Amsterdam’s Most Famous Secret Church. On September 23, the newly renovated Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder (Museum Our Lord in the Attic) will re-open to the public. The secret church offered Catholics a place to practice their faith in an era when they were forbidden from worshipping in public, after the Protestant Reformation. Now double its original size, with a new entrance building, the clandestine church is tucked in the attic of a 17th century canal house accessible via a new underground passageway. Tours, exhibitions and services are offered on the first Sunday of every month, from October–April.
5. Party Hard at Amsterdam Dance Event. (ADE). One of the world’s biggest electronic music extravaganzas, featuring 2,000 artists and 450 events in 100 venues, celebrates its 20th anniversary in Amsterdam from October 14–18. For five days, top DJs from around the world will spin tunes at renowned music venues like Paradiso, Melweg, Trouw, AIR and Sugar Factory, as well as on rooftop terraces and at museums, clothing shops and cinemas.
6. Eat Chocolate for Dinner. Why? Because you can! On October 23, a chocolate-inspired dinner will launch Amsterdam’s annual Origin Chocolate Event at The Royal Tropical Institute. The following day, sample chocolates made of the finest quality cocoa from specific regions of the world and engage with 25 award-winning chocolatiers at the October 24 event in the city with world’s largest cocoa port.
7. Have a Beery Good Time. The PINT Bokbier Festival, Holland’s largest beer festival, returns to the Beurs van Berlage, Amsterdam’s former stock market, for three days of foam-topped fun, from October 23–25.
8. Hear London Calling. On October 30–31, new bands from Britain and America will perform at this annual two-day festival that’s been launching musical careers since 1992.
9. Spend the Night in a Museum. Amsterdam museums will welcome visitors for a special evening of workshops, concerts, tours and performances, from 7pm to 2am on November 7. The annual Museumnacht, aka “n8,” gives art lovers a chance to see their favorite Dutch masterpieces in a new light—after dark. Vincent Van Gogh fans will have a chance to view the iconic Dutch artist’s work alongside paintings of another tormented trailblazer—Edvard Munch. Like Van Gogh, the Norwegian painter best known for his pre-Expressionist painting The Scream, has a legacy of emotionally-charged works created during a life of poverty and hardship. The Van Gogh-Munch exhibit runs from September 25–January 17, 2016 at Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum.
10. See the Light. On November 19, Amsterdam’s luxury department store De Bijenkorf will Turn on the Lights in Dam Square, launching the year-end holiday season. The free public lighting ceremony kicks off at 7pm with a holiday show and will culminate with the illumination of 600,000 energy-efficient LED lights on the facade of De Bijenkorf.
11. Illuminate the Night. The annual Amsterdam Light Festival puts the city and its canals in the limelight with unique light installations. Set for November 26–January 17, 2016, the 4th edition will again feature The Illuminade walking route from December 10–January 3, 2016, a visual spectacle of illuminated installations throughout Amsterdam’s historic center.
12. Catch a Movie. Or five. On the final weekend of Amsterdam’s International Documentary Film Festival, catch five grand prize winners in one program at The Best of IDFA. Screenings are planned for November 28–29 at the DeLaMar Theater.
13. Welcome Sinterklaas. On Sunday, November 15, Sinterklaas will steam into Amsterdam from Spain with his band of helpers, the Zwarte Pieten (Black Petes). After transferring to Amerigo, his white horse, the beloved Sint & Co. will parade through town, tossing pepernoten to expectant children. The merry band will stay in the Netherlands until December 5, when they’ll distribute goodies to good Dutchies and haul naughty ones back to Spain for a warm winter.